I used to read Penny Arcade religiously. I’ve got a few books of Gabe and Tycho’s, each one signed. I’ve enjoyed many of their recommendations and have generally thought they were (ultimately) a positive influence for gamers. But we’re not going to talk about that today.
Krahulik has also said some exceedingly fucked up stuff. Stuff that goes beyond merely being insensitive and offensive and digs its heels in deep with the intent to harm whatever it is that he and Holkins have created. But we’re not going to talk about that today, either.
Really, what I want to talk about is this particular passage from the above link here:
So what am I? As a young person I imagined myself a sort of vengeful spirit. A schoolyard Robin Hood who attacked the strong and popular on behalf of the social outcasts. I’m 36 years old now though and I realize what I am is a bully. I may have been the one who got beat up but I sent plenty of kids home in tears. I also realize that I carried those ridiculous insecurities into adulthood. I still see people who attack me as the enemy and I strike back with the same ferocity as that seventh grader I used to be. I’m ashamed of that and embarrassed. The crazy thing is I don’t even necessarily believe the stuff I say a lot of times. It would probably be more noble if I did. The truth is I just say them to be mean. I say them because I know they will hurt. It’s pretty fucked up.
I’ve mentioned before my own rough childhood. I dealt with bullies, abuse, name-calling, teasing. I highly doubt anyone who went on to be successful creatively had an easy childhood. I suspect anyone who has a talent for creating worlds to escape in first had to have a reason to escape from their own. And I can completely understand where Krahulik is coming from here.
Because really, the “vengeful spirit” thing is not exclusive to him. I’ve mentioned before that constant bullying turned me into an asshole. By the time I was old enough to realize words could hurt and I had a talent with them, I used both those facts to insidious ends. I would quickly tear other kids down, diminishing their accomplishments, making them feel guilty for things they didn’t do, generally making them feel like garbage.
I know I’m not alone in this. Some of the most venomous, vicious, virulent people I’ve met were bullied as kids. Probably a lot of them thought that they were “vengeful spirits,” as well. And maybe it began that way. But the truth of the matter is–for me, and them, and I think for Krahulik–that this behavior is motivated by the same thing that motivates most human behavior: fear.
Someone who comes from a difficult position will do anything to avoid going back to that position. Some of the most ardent fitness gurus out there were overweight children. Some of the most steadfast atheists came from staunchly religious households. They were in situations where they were being made miserable and will do damn near anything to avoid being made to feel like that again.
Myself, I was picked on, bullied, ostracized and generally made to feel like an outsider in my own life. I constantly felt the looming specter of being bumped to the bottom of the social ladder. I got into a fistfight with my best friend over New Year’s because of it, lashing out because–for an instant–I felt like I was back in school, back to being the guileless, chubby kid with no friends.
For even as we get older and more successful, the ghosts of those days don’t ever really die. As we become more confident and self-assured, we never really feel like no one can hurt us, we just feel like we can make them pay a steeper and steeper price for doing so. No one ever really moves past those fears. They just bury the old ghosts, one at a time, and patiently wait for new ones to arrive.
This particular fear is cannibalizing, though. You grow up being bullied by people in positions of power. When you have a position of power yourself, you feel the need to hold onto it to keep yourself from being bullied again. To apologize, to admit fault, to self-reflect is to show weakness, is to give up some of that power, is to invite the bullying all over again. The bullied becomes, as Krahulik notes, the bully.
And there is no greater evidence of this cannibalizing influence than the fact that a vast number of people have met Krahulik’s apology by sitting down, drumming their fingers on their knees and gleefully awaiting the moment he fucks up and says something offensive again.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about.
Now, it could be that we all run in different social circles. Maybe I frequent message boards that are meaner, twitter groups that are harsher. But I’m pretty sure that, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a geek of some sort. And I’m pretty sure that all the groups I hang out in and all the ones that you hang out in touch each other at some point. And everywhere I go, I see Krahulik’s apology met with declarations that he’s insincere, that he doesn’t mean it, that he does mean it but he can’t help himself and we should just start counting down the days until he fucks up again.
And he’s going to fuck up again, it’s true. Like I said, no one really moves past that fear. They just learn to deal with it in better ways. But even if he didn’t, how could he not fuck up with a not insignificant portion of the internet rooting for his failure?
Some of these people are just jerks. But I think a lot of them are feeding into that cannibalizing fear. I think a lot of people are looking for vindication, to say that Krahulik was always going to be a jerk and that they always were right, to assert power over him and their situations.
I can understand that.
Be mad at Krahulik. I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t be. He’s said some truly awful shit in his days. And I’m not going to tell you that you need to buy this idea of cannibalizing fear or that the only way forward is to walk away, because I know what a frustratingly lame answer that is.
I’m just telling you how I think this whole fear thing works.
I’m not going to go into depth on what I think of Krahulik’s resolution. Nor am I going to tell you what to think about it. But personally, I think that if I dedicate time to wanting him to fail, then he eventually will, and all the good he and Penny Arcade have done will eventually just collapse under the weight of that fear. So for now, I think I’m going to believe him and wish him well with this resolution.
Because I got into a fistfight with my best friend on New Year’s Eve because of that fear. And I don’t wish it for Krahulik or the people who are mad at him.